Final plug nears after crews cement Gulf oil well’s top
Posted: Friday, August 6, 2010 8:02 pm
ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) — Crews moved closer to a final seal on BP’s blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after pumping fresh cement into the top of the well to hold down mud that is stopping the seafloor gusher.
Engineers poured in cement Thursday to complete a plug at the top of the wellbore, called a static kill, and planned to wait at least a day for it to harden. Once that’s done, crews can work on injecting more mud and cement into the bottom of well from deep underground to form a final and lasting plug.
That static kill procedure started Tuesday with engineers pumping enough mud down the top of the well to push the crude back to its underground source for the first time since an oil rig exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the massive spill.
But more than three month’s after BP’s blowout, much of the crude still in the Gulf and coastal areas has permeated deep into marshes and wetlands, complicating cleanup.
Crews are still finding plenty of crude in those interior areas, even as government officials say spotting oil from the air on the Gulf’s surface is taking longer on each trip.
“The good news is people are seeing less oil, but the bad news is the oil trapped in the marshes is moving out with the tides and sticking on the marsh cane,” said Maura Wood, an oceanographer with the National Wildlife Foundation, on a boat trip to the marshes of Pass-A-Loutre, La. “And that could kill it.”
The sometimes frustrating search for oil underscores the difficulties facing the small army of federal officials and cleanup crews tasked with purging what remains. Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, the government’s on-scene coordinator, said he’s had to spend a growing amount of his time taking flights over the Gulf to search for the remaining crude.
“There is very little observable oil out there,” he said, saying that Coast Guard responders are not seeing much on the surface. But he added: “We can’t turn a blind eye … If we don’t see oil, I’m not assuming it doesn’t exist.”
After the cement in the oil well dries, the last step begins: Finishing the drilling of the last 100 feet of the relief well, which government officials said will be used to seal the underground reservoir from the bottom with mud and cement.
“This is not the end, but it will virtually assure us that there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who oversees the spill response for the government, said in Washington.
The progress was another bright spot as the tide appeared to be turning in the monthslong battle to contain the oil, with a federal report this week indicating that only about a quarter of the spilled crude remains in the Gulf and is degrading quickly.
Despite the progress on the static kill, BP PLC executives and federal officials won’t declare the threat dashed until they use the relief well — though lately they haven’t been able to publicly agree on its role.
Federal officials including Allen have insisted that crews will shove mud and cement through the 18,000-foot relief well, which should be completed within weeks. Crews can’t be sure the area between the inner piping and outer casing has been plugged until the relief well is complete, he said.
Published in The Messenger 8.6.10